Spatchcocked Roast Turkey

By • October 15, 2012 71 Comments

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Author Notes: In some ways, this recipe represents the best of FOOD52. I haven't done my holiday turkeys like this for years and years. No, this one was developed with a lot of help via the Hotline (especially when it was the FoodPickle), and then refined last year using the basic dry brine technique of the Russ Parson's "Judy Bird" posted as part of the Genius series. I've made a lot of turkeys over the past 35 years, experimenting with all different methods. This is by far my favorite. Here's why. We always take a rather long hike on Thanksgiving Day, so my turkey doesn’t even go into the oven until mid-afternoon. Butterflying the bird helps get dinner on the table much sooner. Also, if you brine (wet or dry), your drippings generally taste too salty to use in gravy. Having the back of the turkey (not brined) to roast on its own with the neck of the bird allows you to make a flavorful gravy. (See my recipe for “Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy”, if you’d like more specific information on that. You don’t need to buy extra wings, if you have the back.) Furthermore, a spatchcocked bird doesn’t take as much vertical space in the oven, leaving more shelf space for cooking side dishes. Butterflying also produces an evenly cooked bird, as the lower joints cook more quickly, so the breast does not dry out. Enjoy!! ;o)AntoniaJames

Food52 Review: WHO: AntoniaJames is a Food52 veteran who shows she knows her way around a turkey.
WHAT: A simple, herb-rubbed bird with a few tricks up its sleeve.
HOW: Let butterflying and dry-brining do every bit of the work for you.
WHY WE LOVE IT: You'll want to combine both techniques every year. Together they produce a Thanksgiving miracle: a turkey that's incredibly moist, quick-cooking, and doesn't take up a lot of space in the oven.

Makes whatever sized bird you have

  • 1 Turkey (you choose your size!)
  • Salt for the rub (1 tablespoon for every five pounds of turkey; for a smaller bird, you might need a bit more.)
  • Fresh herbs for the rub. (I use a combination of fresh marjoram and thyme; you could use rosemary and sage, or your favorites.) 2-3 thick sprigs of each for a small bird, and 5-6 for a large one.
  • White wine (one glass for the bird, one for you)
  1. If you want to roast a spatchcocked turkey, you really should buy your bird from a butcher who will "butterfly" it for you. Make sure you have her or him give you the backbone and other parts that are removed, as they are perfect for roasting and making a rich stock for gravy.
  2. If you must butterfly the bird yourself, get the sharpest kitchen shears you can find and patiently snip (it may feel like hacking) down each side of the backbone. A good sharp cleaver or a good sized butcher knife may be necessary to cut into the pelvis, if you're roasting a larger bird. Then cut deeply into aptly-named keel bone between the two breast halves – it does look just like the keel of a ship – which will allow you to flatten the breast. This is important in roasting the bird evenly. Don’t worry about removing the keel bone altogether; snipping the cartilage along one side should allow you to spread the two breast halves apart.
  3. Wrap up the turkey back and neck in butcher paper or put them in a plastic bag; refrigerate until you need them. They are perfect for roasting separately, to make gravy.
  4. Blitz the salt in a food processor with the leaves and slender stems of the herbs.
  5. Thoroughly pat the bird dry inside and out, and then rub the salt gently into the skin, using a bit more on the thickest part of the breast. Sprinkle the herbed salt evenly over the inside areas of the turkey as well.
  6. Put the turkey into a large plastic bag, with the two back edges together, so that it looks rather like it did before you removed the backbone. Squeeze out as much air as you can from the bag, and secure it shut. Then, sit the turkey in the bag, breast side up, in a large bowl. Put it in the fridge for three days, rubbing the salt into the skin gently every day, and turning it upside down in the bowl 24 hours before you plan to cook the bird. (I strongly recommend using a bowl because, no matter how good your re-sealable bag may seem, it’s likely to leak. So let it leak into the bowl, and not into your vegetable drawer.)
  7. The night before you plan to roast the bird, remove it from the bag, and put it on a large plate with the back pieces together and the breast up. (If your fridge is stuffed, like mine usually is the night before I roast a turkey, you can also wash and dry the bowl to use instead.) Put it in the fridge until an hour before you plan to begin roasting. If you're getting up very early on T-Day, you can do this in the morning, as long as the bird has at least 6 or 7 hours to sit uncovered before you remove it from the fridge.
  8. An hour before you plan to start roasting the turkey, take it out of the fridge and put it on a rack set inside a large roasting pan, spread out of course. Pull the legs forward, as shown in the photo. For some reason, I don’t own a decent flat roasting rack, so I set my largest cookie cooling rack on three sturdy stalks of celery, to give it a bit more stability.
  9. Heat your oven to 450 degrees. When it's been 450 degrees for at least 20 minutes, put the turkey in. I usually add about a cup of water, to keep the juices from browning too much before the turkey releases its juices into the pan. Roast at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400 degrees; then, roast for about 10 minutes per pound, total.
  10. Cover the breast after an hour with heavy foil (or after an hour and a half for a larger bird). I usually pour a glass of white wine over the bird at this point. Then I pour myself one -- this is optional but recommended. (For a larger bird, I'd do this about an hour before I expected to remove it from the oven.)
  11. The turkey is done when the thigh's internal temperature is 165 degrees. Start checking early though (about half way through the expected total time), as the temperatures and heat circulation activity of your oven, the number of times the door is open, the temperature of your refrigerator and the ambient temperature on your counter, etc., all contribute to extreme variability in the actual time required to roast any particular bird. Also, it seems that larger birds require less time per pound. Although I was told by Melissa Clark on the Gilt Turkey hotline last year that a large bird should be roasted at 450 degrees for 1/2 hour and then 10 -12 minutes per pound at 350 degrees after that, I learned from a FOOD52 member via the Hotline that her spatchcocked 30 pound turkey was done in about 3 1/2 hours, instead of the 6 hours that formula would require. So start checking early, especially with a larger bird.
  12. When the internal temperature of the thigh has reached 165 degrees, take the bird out of the oven, remove the foil and let the roast rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.
  13. Meanwhile, use the pan drippings in very small quantities to season your gravy. (The drippings may be too salty to form the basis of your gravy, so unless you have a better method for making gravy, roast that turkey back separately and use its drippings instead. See my “Make Ahead Turkey Gravy” recipe for more detailed instructions.)
  14. Enjoy! ;o)

More Great Recipes: Chicken|Entrees

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Comments (71) Questions (2)


9 months ago placidplaid

I showed this recipe to a friend of mine and he wondered what size oven you'd need to accomodate the flattened out bird. He also thought it would be dry.


9 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

A standard 30" oven is plenty large, even for a large bird. We have never had a problem with the bird being dry (especially when prepared with the dry rub as suggested), and in fact, it's amazing how juicy it is. The cooking time is greatly reduced. Overcooking is what dries out turkey. I haven't heard of any complaints from anyone else on this. ;o)


9 months ago Maria Colón

This will be my first time ever cooking a turkey and I want to try this. I will be using a 24 pound turkey, what size pan or sheet should I use? Also, did you put the water into the pan with the turkey?


9 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I don't know about the size of the pan, as I've never roasted one that large. I'll post a question over on the hotline about that. As for adding water, yes, I usually put just a bit in the roasting pan when I put the bird in, to keep the initial drippings, etc. from burning. Liquid is released during cooking, which tends to keep things in order, but I would keep an eye on it and add a bit more during the cooking, if necessary. (Good question!) ;o)


9 months ago Maria Colón

Okay awesome thank you!


9 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Maria, here is the link to the Hotline discussion: ;o)


9 months ago Maria Colón

Oh nice!! Thanks you so much for doing that!


over 1 year ago Paula Bauer

There is one thing that bothers me about so many recipes...too complicated! First one must learn basics to branch out. As a trained retired, I must say to all I coach...make it simple...relax...enjoy. Most posted recipes skip basics and jump right into a more advanced level. Consiquently people give up or get scared and do something wrong. Spatchcocking a bird is very simple. (see my other post below.) Cut the bird's back top to bottom...cut off all the extraneous fat and tissue and put in a generous pot...then add tail, neck and gizzards all and onion skins and onion ends...celery bottom and wilted top, maybe tomato stem ends if you are using tomato for ...say salad...throw in the stem parts and cover all with water...bring to a boil and immediately turn to simmer...start this before turkey goes into oven. When turkey is done, and resting covered on counter....pour simmered liquid through 3 layers of cheesecloth in a strainer....discard all solids and skim as much fat as possible off liquid. You now have a very tasty liquid for gravy....add a bit of Soy sauce for added color and a bit more flavor. thicken anf grave is ready.

The Aleppo pepper I use quite a bit, is deceiving...use too much and you can get into trouble. But an adequate amount will leave a very nice taste in your mouth after you finish eating the food it is in.


over 1 year ago Paula Bauer

The best I have found is a rub w/o salt...
1/2 cup tuscan seasoning
2 T Aleppo ground pepper flakes
4-6 cloves garlic very fine chopped
mix together well then add just enough olive oil to make a paste,
rub all all over the prepped (Spatchcock) bird
let stand 1/2 hour to an hour depending on size
and cook at 425 till golden
and you can feel the leg joint moving when you twist it gently
I do not remove backbone but smack it flat


almost 2 years ago calendargirl

AJ, this was just the best last year and we are going to do it again this year. There is no reason to do a turkey any other way. Warmest greetings to you and yours!


almost 2 years ago Connie Cain

I agree that Antonia's directions are the best I've ever read..Julia's weren't so easy in her first two books!!
Will be enjoying Thanksgiving with Newlyweds ( daughter and son-in-law ) in SF and plan on cooking our turkey this way! Have been cooking chicken like this for years but never thought of doing a turkey! Brilliant! My vote is for you!!


almost 3 years ago dymnyno

This is the first time I have ever butterflied a turkey. I thought that I was going to have to bring out a chainsaw (my shears are in need of sharpening...maybe?) I won't do it any other way now. It took a little less than 2 hours for a 14 pound turkey and it looks evenly browned and perfectly cooked. I hope you had a great hike today (we did!) and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving with your husband and dear boys.


almost 3 years ago maryvelasquez

I am thankful for the clear advice of AntoniaJames and my new poultry sheers! Can't wait to see how this turns out.


almost 3 years ago Whats4Dinner

Ah, and so it begins.....the bird is here, butterflied, I've yet to pull out the food processor to process the salt and herbs, but here we go!


almost 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Congrats again on being a finalist AJ! This simply a gorgeous recipe.


almost 3 years ago Kukla

Congratulations AJ!! So happy for you, this is truly a great recipe!!!


almost 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I think this is an awesome recipe, and although I have never spatchcocked a turkey I think I will have my butcher do it for me and definitely give this one a try!


almost 3 years ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Congratulation to you - I for sure want to try this - I started small on a cornish hen :-) but building my way up to a turkey. GREAT recipe!!!


almost 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Congrats on a great recipe! I for one will never cook a whole turkey that isn't spatchcocked again.


almost 3 years ago Kathy Kelm

Spatchcocking a turkey is made easier using your handy dandy kitchen mallet or a clean hammer. Put your cleaver or heaviest knife parallel to the side of the backbone at the point where the ribs attach. WHACK the thickest part of the knife. Repeat going down. I use the scissors to clip the soft tissue after the bone is cut. I also use the whacked knife technique to massage large squashes and rutabaga apart. It is much safer to have your hands distant from the sharp knife and whack than to struggle inside a cold, slippery buzzard with scissors. Finally, the funitude factor with turkey whacking is awesome. Be sure to have timid folks watch. It REALLY makes the cook look authoritative!


almost 3 years ago ChocolateDiva

My turkey was 16 pounds. I used a cookie sheet. I put chopped onions, celery and carrots on the cookie sheet then put the turkey on the rack on top of the vegetables with one cup of broth. You make gravy from these drippings.
Spatchcocked turkey is really great---it cooks so much quicker. However, much easier to have the butcher do this.


almost 3 years ago SJB

What size roasting pan will I need for a 12-14 pound bird?


almost 3 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks so much, everyone, for your kind words and helpful tips! ;o)


almost 3 years ago ChocolateDiva

Your are oh so right about having the butcher remove the back bone. I always do this but my son brought home a frozen turkey from work and I was only able to cut down one side, but it worked. It still lay out flat like yours. My recipe is a little different, I cook it at 325 degrees.
Congrats on being a finalist! ! !


almost 3 years ago Stubor

I really enjoy your writing style, Ms. James. You remind me of Julia Child ("and one for cook!" & "The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.")